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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Training of Children
By Tacitus (56–c. 120 A.D.)
 
From ‘A Dialogue on Oratory’: Translation of Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb

WHO does not know that eloquence and all other arts have declined from their ancient glory, not from dearth of men, but from the indolence of the young, the carelessness of parents, the ignorance of teachers, and neglect of the old discipline? The evils which first began in Rome soon spread through Italy, and are now diffusing themselves into the provinces. But your provincial affairs are best known to yourselves. I shall speak of Rome, and of those native and home-bred vices which take hold of us as soon as we are born, and multiply with every stage of life, when I have first said a few words on the strict discipline of our ancestors in the education and training of children. Every citizen’s son, the child of a chaste mother, was from the beginning reared, not in the chamber of a purchased nurse, but in that mother’s bosom and embrace; and it was her special glory to study her home and devote herself to her children. It was usual to select an elderly kinswoman of approved and esteemed character to have the entire charge of all the children of the household. In her presence it was the last offense to utter an unseemly word or to do a disgraceful act. With scrupulous piety and modesty she regulated not only the boy’s studies and occupations, but even his recreations and games. Thus it was, as tradition says, that the mothers of the Gracchi, of Cæsar, of Augustus,—Cornelia, Aurelia, Atia,—directed their children’s education and reared the greatest of sons. The strictness of the discipline tended to form in each case a pure and virtuous nature, which no vices could warp, and which would at once with the whole heart seize on every noble lesson. Whatever its bias,—whether to the soldier’s or the lawyer’s art, or to the study of eloquence,—it would make that its sole aim, and imbibe it in its fullness.  1
  But in our day we intrust the infant to a little Greek servant-girl, who is attended by one or two—commonly the worst of all the slaves—creatures utterly unfit for any important work. Their stories and their prejudices from the very first fill the child’s tender and uninstructed mind. No one in the whole house cares what he says or does before his infant master. Even parents themselves familiarize their little ones, not with virtue and modesty, but with jesting and glib talk; which lead on by degrees to shamelessness, and to contempt for themselves as well as for others. Really I think that the characteristic and peculiar vices of this city—a liking for actors and a passion for gladiators and horses—are all-but conceived in the mother’s womb. When these occupy and possess the mind, how little room has it left for worthy attainments! Few indeed are to be found who talk of any other subjects in their homes; and whenever we enter a class-room, what else is the conversation of the youths? Even with the teachers, these are the more frequent topics of talk with their scholars. In fact, they draw pupils, not by strictness of discipline or by giving proof of ability, but by assiduous court and cunning tricks of flattery.  2
 
 
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